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  • Writer's pictureKristin Woodward

skin deep

i’ve been suffering from a terrible eczema outbreak since January. my daughter’s, that is. she, on the other hand, hasn’t complained a bit.

while i cursed through round after frustrating round of trial and (mostly) error with lotions and potions we’ve used previously, she remained her sunny self. through itchy nights when all the Benadryl i could give wasn’t enough to soothe her, she snuggled up to me and (finally) went to sleep while i Googled eczema treatments on my phone. on the evenings, when i picked her up from school and felt devastated and completely defeated because her skin had gotten worse over the course of the day, she always ran to me, overjoyed with arms stretched out, calling “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” oblivious. when other children asked what was wrong with her skin, i was embarrassed for her and terrified about how this might play out when she got older. as far as she was concerned, they may as well have been asking what time it was.

i literally thought it might never go away. i felt like a failure for not having a child with clear, pretty skin. i felt like a terrible mother for not being able to make it go away. and obviously, other people thought i was a terrible mother, too. i mean, how could a mother let her child go out into the world like that day after day?

little did they know i had an entire pharmacy’s worth of prescription ointments and creams, non-prescription lotions, natural remedies like coconut oil, vitamin E oil, royal jelly cream even antibiotic cream . . . and that we were on a rotation with several of them, desperately trying to find the combination that would work this time. they didn’t know that her hair was so stringy every day because i couldn’t keep it out of the oily bath water or all the goo that got slathered on her face after her bath. they didn’t know i was disgusted that her bathtub was constantly coated in the same slick film. they didn’t know how often had i cried because just i love her so much and think she is so beautiful, no matter what, and want nothing in the world more than for her to feel better—and to look “normal” to everyone else.

finally, last Monday, we saw the dermatologist. i will admit bad mommying on waiting so long to make the appointment, but we had already been given (and used) prescription ointments from both her pediatrician and an allergist. i felt like i had tried just about everything i’d read about in those late night Internet searches. and i felt like it was a waste of time to get another round of messy, gooey topical solutions, which i was sure was what would be prescribed. but we went anyway.

sure enough, we came home with more goop: HylotopicPlus moisturizer, Acetonide (a new to us steroid ointment) and Triamcinoclone (a steroid ointment we’ve used with varying success for a couple years). but we also got an oral antibiotic and instructions for a bleach bath (1/4 cup to full tub) 3 times a week.because of of a couple snafus with the pharmacy and doctor’s office, we didn’t get all the goods until Thursday. but i swear to god, that bleach bath is a miracle. we did that the first night, slathered on some of the sample Hylotopic and hit hotspots with the Triamcinocolone. the next morning she was 50% percent improved. no joke. i couldn’t believe my eyes.

we continued with the regimen and a couple days later when the scaly, scabby skin that’s covered her chin and eyelids most every day for 2 months was gone, she was looking at herself in the mirror and said “Mommy, i look . . . different.” it broke my heart to think that how she looked a few days earlier had become the norm for her and this clear, beautiful skin seemed strange. and as i explained that her boo-boos were going away and we could see her pretty face better, i almost had to stop myself—and have had to many times over the past week and a half.

you see, i don’t want her to be caught up in how she looks. not her skin, her body, her hair. i want her to be happy and feel good about who she is, regardless of her appearance. and her whole life, i’ve been very careful not to overdo it on telling her how pretty she is—or criticize when she looks like a complete ragamuffin because her hair is out of control or say anything when i worry that she’s chunkier than other kids in her class. how we look, beyond the cuteness of our outfit, is simply not a topic of conversation.

so for the past week and a half, i’ve faced the dilemma of wanting to praise her for putting up with the every night baths and enduring the slathering on of lotion, which she absolutely hates, and connecting those things to the wonderful results we’re seeing—without making a big deal about how she looks. i’ve found myself quickly adding onto comments about how pretty her skin looks “oh, and you must feel so much better, too, don’t you?” or just keeping my trap shut about all of it, which is nearly impossible. at school and in the neighborhood, people are noticing and saying things to her, too, because it is just so natural to want to compliment one another on our looks.

and that is how, quite suddenly, the incredible difficulty of trying to raise a well-adjusted girl became a reality. i didn’t think it would begin at 4. i thought i had at least another few years to think about my approach and what i would tell her (and not tell her) about outer beauty. and i realized i probably need to get my own head straight a bit in this department, as i’m dealing (some days not so well) with my own set of issues and insecurities about my looks, with 40 starting to fade farther into distance behind me.

the good news is that in much the same way being the girl with the messed up skin didn’t seem to affect her much before, being the girl with the pretty skin who gets all the compliments doesn’t seem to affect her much either. maybe, just maybe, Miss Girl has a better head on those well-moisturized shoulders than her Mommy does. and i could learn a thing or 2 from her.

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